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MALDIVES TRAVEL & SURF GUIDE

The history of surfing in the Maldives has a fairy tale quality. Sydney surf travelers Tony Hussein-Hinde and Mark Scanlon were shipwrecked here in the ’70s on their way to somewhere else; while they were salvaging the boat, they’d cruise past all the reefs north of Male, and as Hussein-Hinde remarked, “we reckoned those reefs would be perfect once the wind switched.”

Indeed, as the seasons changed, it became pretty damn clear Tony and Mark had stumbled across a surfer’s paradise. Tony courted and married a local girl, while Mark eventually returned to Australia — but amazingly, no one let the cat out of the bag. Mark surfed pretty much alone for 15 years. “When I went back to Australia after six years to raise more money, none of my friends would believe me when I told them about the place,” he said. “I ended up having to teach the locals how to surf so I’d have someone to join me in the water.” (Perhaps that’s why the lack of stinkeye localism?)

But a blessed wave field like this couldn’t be secret forever; Hussein Hinde started Atoll Adventures in the early ’90s, and now there are more than a few other tour agencies bringing in hundreds of surf visitors per year from all over the world. The secret’s out, dude. That said, it’s still possible to get uncrowded — even empty! — sessions at one of the main breaks. And one or two sessions of perfect, silky six-foot tubes makes any 30-hour flight worthwhile.

Surf Crowds
Sure. You didn’t think that just because the Maldives are in the middle of the fricken Indian Ocean they’d be uncrowded, didja? Thirty hours of travel from California may weed out a few of the wimpy travelers, but there’s plenty enough to populate the Maldives Northern Atoll main eight breaks. And due to the island’s supposed “soft” reputation, you get a United Nations of ability levels — crazy Germans, Italians, Swiss (it’s a relatively cheap flight from Europe), as well as the token beer-swilling Aussies and Kiwis.

Plus, the local Maldivian surfing population is growing by the minute — as of summer ’03, there were an estimated 300 local surfers, mainly on Male. They have an “officially” sanctioned Maldives Surfing Association; they’ve got the bleached bushy afros, the baggy shorts, the new thrusters… fortunately, surfing is young enough that they don’t have the Locals Only ‘tude — yet. Probably up to those who travel there to make sure it stays that way. Yeah, that’d be us.

Surf Hazards
While the reefs are kinda sharp and that’s all you’ll be surfing, they are pretty flat and gently sloped — not a lot of weird coral heads sticking up in the face or sharp volcanic reef lurking below (ie: Backdoor); even at low tide, the reef is there, sure, but the waves don’t really dump right onto ’em but barrel over them, if that makes sense. (These are the flattest islands in the world, after all.) The currents rushing between the islands is another story — if you’re not careful, not only will you be caught out of position, you could be sucked out to sea. Pay attention to the tides and keep land lineups as often as possible. It’s also the tropics, so the standard drink lots of water and use heaps of sunscreen and a rashguard is in effect, especially due to the inevitable jetlag you’ll have the first few days.

Surf Pollution
Ah, here’s where controlled development comes into its own: no pollution, really. The resorts realize folks fly all that way to see crystal clear water and to dump a bunch of shit into it wouldn’t exactly benefit the burgeoning tourism industry. It’s one of the world’s best diving zones, if that gives you any idea as to visibility.

Best Surf Seasons in the Maldives
Similar to Indonesia, the Maldives are monsoonal rather than seasonal and receive swell from the lower Indian Ocean storms — and when the swell gets to the Maldives, it tends to be much more groomed as it’s traveled further.

1) Summer
(April-October) The Southwest Monsoon (Hulhangu) has more storms, more swell, and winds generally come from the southwest. April-June is considered the best time to surf the Maldives as there are many glassy days along with fairly consistent swell. (Though it’s so far in the ocean, swell forecasting for this area is very difficult.) July-September can get pretty stormy and windy.

2) Winter
(January-March) The Northeast Monsoon (Iruvai) tends to be the driest time of year, with few rainstorms and winds clocking around from the east to the north (onshore at many spots, mainly rights). Infrequent swells during this time of year can be quite large, but are often messed up by local winds. Not the best season for surf.

3) Fall
(November-December) Not a good time for surfing. Not much swell, and divers get priority on the dhonis, so even if there is swell, you may not be able to get to it.

Directions to the Maldives
It’s far, dude. Probably the farthest you’ll ever go in an airplane. Coming from California, it’s a 30-hour trip and you don’t even need to change your watch — it’s exactly 12 hours different. Singapore Airlines is probably the best airline choice.

You have a couple options once you get there: staying in one of the land-based resorts or going on one of the boat charters that ply the Atoll’s main and lesser-known breaks. Staying on land is a little more comfortable and roomy (obviously) but you can’t surf as many spots as much as if you’re on a boat the whole time, as you’re dependent on the resort’s group surf taxi dhonis. Dhonveli has exclusive access to Pasta Point and will limit numbers; Lohifushi has exclusive access to Lohi’s and doesn’t limit numbers. Land-based packages start at $2000USD per week (including air). Boat tours run approx. $3000USD per 10 days (including airfare from LA).

*Note: you cannot just “show up” in the Male airport without any accommodation booked. Tourism is super regulated (for better or worse) and you have to be part of some tour, either with a land or boat based agency.

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